The Beatles Pt 1

Posted by Amoebite, August 12, 2009 12:46pm | Post a Comment
We are kicking off the celebration today in honor of the digitally remastered Beatles reissues set to hit Amoeba September 9! Each Wednesday from now until September 2, we will present a segment of The Beatles' biography. Then, the week of September 2-9 will be marked here on the blog with a number of Beatles related posts with a huge variety of topics! We begin now with Part One of the fabled band's history:

the beatles 1962

“This isn’t show business,” John Lennon said at the height of The Beatles’ success. “This is something else.”

Strictly in show business terms, the quartet from Liverpool, England rewrote the book on rock ‘n’ roll, which prior to the group’s 1962 recording debut was considered nothinbeatles for saleg more than disposable music for idle teens. While The Beatles were initially embraced by throngs of young fans (most of them female) -- in a phenomenon dubbed “Beatlemania” by the press -- with the same fervor previously accorded Frank Sinatra in the ‘40s and Elvis Presley in the ‘50s, the depth of their work quickly transcended their teen-idol genesis.

The songs penned by singer-guitarist Lennon and his collaborator, vocalist-bassist Paul McCartney – and, to a lesser extent, those authored by guitarist-vocalist George Harrison – expanded rock’s expressive capabilities, and broadened the audience for the music beyond its youthful base. Their producer George Martin transmuted The Beatles’ bold imaginative leaps in the studio, bringing theretofore unimaginable musical and technical textures to their recorded music. After sensationally announcing themselves with a string of irresistible hit singles that were greeted with unprecedented sales (which persisted until the end of the group’s existence), The Beatles established the long-playing album as the principal commercial format, and as a forum for artistic expression. And their massive popularity on a global scale inaugurated the era of the stadium concert. In sheer magnitude, their achievement remains unrivaled to this day.

But The Beatles’ accomplishment was, as Lennon noted, something else again; their import extends far beyond their status as the bestselling group of all time, a title they have held, against all comers, for nearly 40 years.beatles

During their seven years of popular supremacy between 1963 and 1969, there was virtually no social arena that remained untouched by their presence. Their music and their public persona affected art, fashion, literature, journalism, film, theatre, business, politics, spirituality, even religion. They midwifed a global youth counterculture. Both catalysts and reflectors of their time, they suffused world culture long after they disbanded, with McCartney’s departure, in April 1970.

Worlds of meaning and feeling were inspired by the collective profile of these four distinctive young men from Northern England, who were so universally well-known and personally individuated that they were identified by their first names – invariably ordered, rhythmically and almost hierarchically, as John, Paul, George, and Ringo. They sparked intense love and equally abiding scorn among the young and the old; their every move was scrutinized.

They were the news of the day in their era; today, The Beatles’ dramatic story defines the rock ‘n’ roll myth as much as Presley’s does.


The band that slowly morphed into The Beatles was founded by John Winston Lennon, who was born on john lennon childOctober 9, 1940, in Liverpool. His parents split up when he was five; his footloose mother Julia placed young John in the care of her sister, Mimi Smith. Lennon was an imaginative child who displayed a proclivity for drawing and writing and a love of the works of Lewis Carroll’s fanciful, wordplay-filled Alice books and Richmal Crompton’s William Brown series.

As he grew older, Lennon began to imitate Crompton’s unruly pre-adolescent hero: An indifferent and insolent student, he became a chronically underachieving and oft-disciplined pupil at Quarry Bank Grammar School in suburban Woolton. He affected the Edwardian garb of the lower-class toughs known as “Teddy Boys,” and even organized a mild-mannered gangjohn lennon aunt mimi, the Outlaws.

In 1957, Lennon fell under the spell of Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” the American singer’s first No. 1 hit. (American seamen decamped in the port city of Liverpool, which became a prime conduit for US popular culture in the north of England.) Like many of his generation, he also acquired a fondness for skiffle, the slovenly string-band adaptation of American folk music popularized by singer Lonnie Donegan, the former banjo player in Chris Barber’s trad jazz band. Galvanized, and encouraged by his errant mother, Lennon bought a mail-order guitar and formed a skiffle group, The Quarry Men, with his running buddy Pete Shotton and other Outlaw cronies. Its rotating personnel began to solidify with the arrival of another young musician who could not have been more unlike Lennon in personal style or orientation.

James Paul McCartney was born June 18, 1942, and grew up in the factory town of Speke. His father, a self-trained pianist, led The Jim Mac Jazz Band, which played local socials and dances. He was by all accounts a studious and well-liked schoolboy. Inpaul mccartney 1955, when he was 13, his life was rocked when his mother died suddenly from belatedly diagnosed breast cancer. In 1956, Lonnie Donegan’s appearance in Liverpool spurred McCartney to ask his father for a guitar. Studying the instrument obsessively, he was inspired by the American rockers – Elvis, the close-harmony singers The Everly Brothers, the manic Little Richard, and picker-singer Carl Perkins.

On July 6, 1957, at the invitation of Ivan Vaughan, a sometime member of The Quarry Men, McCartney attended the group’s performance at the garden fete at St. Peter’s Church in Woolton (a typical gig for the young amateurs). After the show, 15-year-old McCartney impressed the older Lennon and his band mates with his recall of lyrics to contemporary hits by Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, and with his ability to tune a guitar (which he played left-handed). By that fall, McCartney had joined The Quarry Men; he and Lennon practiced together, and – inspired by such American rock ‘n’ roll singer-songwriter-guitarists as Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, whose songs would join the band’s repertoire – they soon began writing together.

quarry men john lennon woolton

In early 1958, The Quarry Men were joined by an even younger musician who had befriended McCartney george harrisonon their daily bus route from suburban Speke to Liverpool. George Harrison was born on Feb. 24, 1943. Like his future colleague Lennon, he was a horrendous student who affected Teddy boy garb. As mesmerized by Donegan and skiffle as his contemporaries, he took up the guitar in 1956. Agonizingly teaching the instrument to himself, he took pickers like Carl Perkins and Chet Atkins as his models. The taciturn young musician was introduced to The Quarry Men in late 1957. Over the initial objections of Lennon, who had undisguised contempt for the much younger guitarist, Harrison gradually ingratiated himself into the group.

Not long after Harrison began playing with The Quarry Men, an incident that bonded the group’s senior members took place: Lennon’s mother Julia, who had grown increasingly close to her long-estranged son, was struck by a car while crossing Menlove Avenue in Woolton and killed. The tragedy further cemented the relationship of Lennon and McCartney, now both motherless.

As the skiffle craze waned in 1958, The Quarry Men edged toward rock ‘n’ roll; sometime that year, for themselves, they recorded Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” and the McCartney composition “In Spite of All the Danger.” Work was infrequent, and members came and went, yet the group secured a brief run of 1959 dates at the Casbah Club, a local coffee bar owned by Mrs. Mona Best.

Good for little else academically, Lennon managed to enroll in Liverpool Art College. stu sutcliffeHis closest associate there was Stuart Sutcliffe, a gifted painter but a maladroit musician. Lennon somehow conned his friend into buying a bass guitar with the money he received from the sale of a canvas, and his group acquired a reluctant, conspicuously inept new member in early 1960. Sutcliffe suggested that Lennon’s group – then known in its rock ‘n’ roll incarnation as Johnny and the Moondogs – rename themselves in homage to Buddy Holly’s band The Crickets. Historians record the original of this entomological moniker as “The Beetles” or “The Beatals,” in acknowledgement of the band’s role in Liverpool’s homegrown “beat music” scene; it was Lennon who ultimately altered it to The Beatles, and the group would be known as such, with temporary variants like The Silver Beetles, for the rest of their career.

Check back for Part Two in this series, wherein The Beatles travel to Hamburg, are suited up in leather, then wool, and become a sensation both in Germany and their native England -- coming up next Wednesday, August 19! In the meantime, you can preorder any of The Beatles reissues (p.s., when you do, you'll get a free copy of Paul McCartney's Amoeba's Secret!) and read about staff favorites right here, and you can find out what will be going on in each store on Beatles Day right here! We're gonna have a good time!
silver beetles

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